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Wherein our dynamite Exhibitions Department creates an immersive media experience inspired by a discarded wax candle.

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The Brain Scoop is written and hosted by:
Emily Graslie

Created By:
Hank Green

Directed, Edited, Animated, and Scored by:
Michael Aranda

Assistant Camera:
Rob Scallon

Huge thanks to John Zehren, Marie Georg, Nivine Tawancy, Greg Mercer, Emily Ward, and Simon Watson for your help in producing this episode! Congratulations on the completion of the Heat Theater! I'm so proud of all of you.

Production Assistant:
Katie Kirby

Filmed on Location and Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Thanks to Caitrin McCullough for creating captions, and to Evan Liao, Barbara Velazquez, Seth Bergenholtz, and Martina Šafusová for translating them!


Emily: Hey! So we're with John Zehren here up in the ...what is it, the Rep. Shop? The...

John: The Production Shop.

Emily: The Production Shop. And..

John: Call it whatever you want, right?

Emily: So, what do you do here?

John: I make stuff.

Emily: You make stuff?

John: Yeah, I do.

Emily: That's pretty broad.

John: It's... it's never the same thing twice.

Emily: Really?

John: And I think the coolest thing I've ever done is I get to weld on the dinosaurs, so I'm a Dinosaur Welder.

Emily:' that...that is not what your badge says.

John: No it does not say Dinosaur Welder.

Emily: But that would be pretty sweet if it said "John Zehren - Dinosaur Welder".

John: But if you ask my eleven year old daughter she'll go "my Dad's a Dinosaur Welder".

Emily: That's amazing!

John: It's pretty cool.

Emily: I didn't even know you did that.

John: You know how that sounds cool? It is cool.

Emily: That is cool. It's really cool.

John: Basically anything that's built for an exhibition is made in this shop. Either by the crews that work in here or by myself.

Emily: Really?

John: Yeah.

Emily: And you're working on the Heat Theater?

John: Working on Heat Theater for bio-mechanics.

Emily: Essentially we just want to get an image of, like, what the Heat Theater is and, and...

John: Haha, okay, walk this way, I'll show you heat theater. It's really cool.

 Introduction to the Heat Theater

John: So this is Heat Theater. And basically what you have is a structure that needs to be easy to put up, easy to come down, can go in one crate. So, we established a series of ribs. I've been working on all the problems with the design, like what the beams are going to be, how they're going to go together. So right now these beams all come apart, you can see where the joint is. Screw it. It's pretty easy to put together.

Emily: This is going to travel all across the country. Is this going to go all over the world?

John: There's going to be two shows. This one travels the contiguous United States. And then there's going to be a European show.

Emily: Well. It's pretty sweet.

 Marie Georg

Marie: Long, long ago we had brainstorm sessions with our scientist to learn about lots of cool stories about heat and organisms that had to deal with hot environments and cold environments. We actually have a whole section about heat. But a lot of the coolest heat stories really dependant on seeing the environment to make sense out of the story.

Emily: Okay.

Marie: Like, sort of the deep cold of the ocean, things like that.

Emily: Yeah.

Marie: So we realized that maybe a good way to deal with this would be to put a lot of these stories into one Heat Theater experience.

Emily: What is your favorite part of the Heat Theater. Like, what about it makes, like, gets you excited?

Marie: Well, I'm really excited how immersive it's going to be. Like, long, long ago when we were kind of pitching the idea to the video producers I had said, you know, "I almost want it to be like a 4D theater" or something where, like, you could feel how hot it is and feel how cold it is. Something that can make you feel like you're in the environment with these organisms that have to deal with hot places and cold places. And they've really done a great job of trying to find ways to do that, within the limits of what we can actually do with a traveling exhibit.

Emily: Right.

Marie: So there's going to be, sort of, tricks of light and the way it's shaped and things like that are all to help enhance this sense of being immersed in these environments.

 Nivine Tawancy

Emily: Okay. So now we're talking to Nivine who works up here in Exhibits. You're an Exhibition Designer?

Nivine: Yes.

Emily: Right. And you are responsible for birthing the idea of the Heat Theater. I don't know if that's an appropriate way to say it.

Nivine: That sounds about right.

Emily: It seems to all have been a collaborative project but really you're the one who came up with the overall design, how it would look like.

Nivine: Crazily enough I started working on this a year ago.

Emily: Wow.

Nivine: Um, like this model right here I made, that's why it's so tattered, it's a year old.

Emily: Aww. It looks like a bee hive.

Nivine: Usually I get a lot of my ideas from the free table over here where people put stuff there that they don't want anymore. And I had found this candle and unravelled it and kinda created this form and just took a photograph of it inside and created this, like, quick rendering right here.

Emily: Nice. This is a photograph of the inside of that candle? I would have never... And then you put the people inside of it.

Nivine: Right. So it.. you know, give it spatial quality.

Emily: Yeah, yeah.

Nivine: Um, so that's what I had proposed to everybody and they were like "wow, that's really cool. Um, let's try to make this."

Nivine: Initially I had started using hexagon shapes. I'd go from making models, drawing, to taking my models, smashing them, scanning them.

Emily: Nice!

Nivine: And learning more about the content that was going inside the theater we decided to expand upon the hexagonal shapes and move onto the Voronoi pattern which is more of a...

Emily: The what kind of pattern?

Nivine: Voronoi.

Emily: Vorono...Voronoi?

Nivine: Yeah. V-O-R-O-N-O-I. I hope that's how you spell it.


Nivine: In nature you see it all the time where ice cracks, or the earth cracks in the desert. So with the Heat Theater, since it's about cold and hot temperatures it made more sense to go with the Voronoi as opposed to the honeycomb. I kind of went back to the model making, trying to think of different forms and shapes that we could use, that we could map the Voronoi pattern onto. So I'm using this software called Rhino and there's a plug-in that's called Grasshopper that you can take whatever patterns that you want and map it on to a very organic surface.

Emily: Oh neat.

Nivine: So, using Rhino and using Grasshopper helped me get my ideas here to the point where I could make it look like this.

Emily: Wow! Yeah, make a model.

Nivine: So that's a 3D model and this was the very first iteration. We had a very small budget but we wanted something like this. We wanted something that was immersive, that you can walk into, that people would actually feel hot and cold. So this is the first iteration, so you can see here how organic it started out as.

Emily: Yeah.

Nivine: So it was very, like, all curved. They said "hundred thousand dollars".

Emily: Oh wow!

Nivine: We were like "we don't have a hundred thousand dollars." Um, so I took this and I simplified it. It was only curved in the z-direction. Here you can see in the plan view, like, all these faces are completely flat.

Emily: Okay.

Nivine: And in this direction it's curving. That still wasn't doable. We went through a lot of prototyping and figuring out. Like, taking it from this point to this point here.

Emily: Oh, okay.

Nivine: So you can see how much flatter it became. And these drawings are actually reflecting what you see out here.

Emily: Okay, yeah. So you can see it all kind of come together.

Nivine: Right.

Emily: It's really cool to be able to see it, to come from, you know, a model which ends up just starting off as like... You know, I really liked that part of your contribution to it where you find this wax candle and you're like "hmm, this is interesting, how could this turn into, like, a giant immersive, like, theater experience?" and that's cool.

 Greg Mercer

Emily G: Hey Greg! I'm with Greg Mercer right now. Greg is a, what is it? Interactive Media Producer in the Media Department here at the Field Museum. So, any time you see, like, a movie or anything going on in an exhibit you can thank Greg and the rest of his team up here.

Greg: And the rest of them for sure.

Emily G: The rest of them.

Emily W: Well I feel like some of Greg's sketches that are up here are even sort of a good... Obviously this is gone beyond, before, pre-filming. But it's sort of a good example of where we started, you know? He was really thinking about this, and like about the desert and what it means to show heat and how we're going to show that and then we started talking about, like, what's out there and how do we get that and are we looking at stock footage, do we know someone there? And, like, what does this experience feel like and suddenly we just started saying "I think we need to go film this. And how do we want to film it and how is that going to fit in?" So, then...

Emily G: So you were like "oh, I guess I gotta go on a trip!"


Emily G: "oh, well."

Emily W: "Looks like we're headed to the desert."

Greg: The key is creating an experience that you have to film for. 

Emily G: Yeah.

Greg: No, no, but it was one of those... I mean we did, you know, but we did want to... and we're doing two projectors side by side and so, yeah we can use stock footage for some of it, for some of those, like, animal behaviors that are really hard to find.

Emily G: Yeah.

Greg: We'll capitalize on what's out there. But, to have, like, a really, you know, extreme panorama surround you it helps to know how you're presenting it, and then you can film it in a really specific way. So luckily we, you know, we get the buy in of our department and they say "alright, go for it" you know. There's a lot of trust for sure.

Emily G: Yeah.

Greg: And it's really cool, like, you know, each, each exhibit, each exhibition you get a chance to kind of push it a little bit further so we'd be like "oh, on Restoring Earth we did this thing, and what if we took it a step further, like what if we built upon that?" And because we, you know, if we can pull it off in one exhibit then we get, there's the trust there that like "alright, we're going to let you guys push it a little but further" and then it's...

Emily G: It's like levelling up. It's like (Singing) "Do do do do".


Greg: So...

Emily W: Totally.

Emily G: "Rank unlocked - expedition filming. Sweet perk." I've been playing too many video games lately.


Michael: If we put that in the episode people are going to be like "Oh, cool joke that Michael made Emily say."

Emily G: Oh yeah!